Good Sense

by John Holbo on January 16, 2008

We have an old (1909) children’s book, Fun & Fancy For the Little Ones. Which is not, actually, as grim as you would expect. The illustrations for "The Fishes Athletic Club" are alright. I just noticed there are ads on the inside cover (click for larger).


They marketed corsets for children under the brand name ‘Good Sense’? "These waists conform to the NATURAL BEAUTY of the human form as GOD made it, and are not made after "French" patterns."

I didn’t Photoshop that. And we don’t call em ‘saddlebags’ anymore, because that’s "French". We call ’em ‘freedom thighs’.

Well, I just thought I’d share that with you.



Matt 01.16.08 at 3:36 pm

There really is a lot of print in that add, isn’t there. At first I thought, “that looks like a kid in the add, but it musn’t be since no one would sell corsets for kids” but I guess that just shows what I know.


Bloix 01.16.08 at 3:56 pm

The “French” style was to “tight-lace” girls beginning in childhood for the express purpose of producing narrow-waisted young women. It was analogous to foot-binding. This company is advertising a corset with a waist that fits naturally. It’s a manifestation of the “dress reform” movement of the later nineteenth century.


John Holbo 01.16.08 at 4:11 pm

“The “French” style was to “tight-lace” girls beginning in childhood for the express purpose of producing narrow-waisted young women.”

Aha. That makes more sense.

As to all the words – the are very small in the original, which is only 3 inches by 2, approximately. It’s like trying to read the inside cover of a Chris Ware book.


tom brandt 01.16.08 at 6:04 pm

That mishmash of font styles and sizes is quite eye-watering.


whiskey 01.16.08 at 6:16 pm

Are you reacting to corsets for children, or corsets for children in 1909, or the French part?


Adam Roberts 01.16.08 at 8:00 pm

The semiology of this — in effect, ‘hey we’ve got a great splurge of words, but not to worry, we can squee-ee-eze them all into a tiny little space! — is appropriate enough for a corset company.


trane 01.16.08 at 8:40 pm

Thanks for sharing.


George 01.16.08 at 9:02 pm

I don’t get it. If it conforms to the natural beauty of the human form, why would they need to wear it at all?


Watson Aname 01.16.08 at 9:06 pm

George: Because then, as now, “the natural beauty of the human form” is marketese for a state obtainable only by a very few, and that at great expense (and with good lighting). The rest are strongly encouraged to approximate it (at as great expense as practicable)


luci 01.16.08 at 9:09 pm

“This company is advertising a corset with a waist that fits naturally.”

*More* naturally = less tight? Cuz it’s still binding children with corsets, right? Unless corsets served another purpose back then…


Bloix 01.16.08 at 9:38 pm

George and Luci- the likely target for this ad is a woman who herself was tight-laced but who has been influenced by progressive trends in child-rearing, and has come to believe that girls will benefit from exercise and fresh air. So she is willing to be convinced that her daughters should not be tight-laced. On the other hand, she still believes, as she was taught, that girls and young women need the “support” that a corset provides, and she herself likely does need that support, due to the weakness of her abdomen and back muscles – weakness caused by years of tight-lacing, although she does not know that. In addition, she may believe that an adolescent girl without a corset is likely to become a “loose” woman not merely literally but also figuratively. So this corset is a compromise. It will allow her daughters enough freedom of movement to enjoy decorous outdoor play but it will constrain her sufficiently for the requirements of propriety.


david k 01.16.08 at 9:46 pm

Wow, free shipping even!


Hogan 01.16.08 at 10:31 pm

Gotta keep that womb from floating.


fjg 01.17.08 at 12:28 am

Bloix, thank you, that’s fascinating.

I came here to take the piss out of crazy Edwardians but I stayed for the history lesson.


The Modesto Kid 01.17.08 at 12:56 am

Is that a price list on the lower right-hand side? At first I thought Oh cool, how forward-looking — they are using decimal sizing! But looking at it again, I think the sizes are implicit, and the decimal numbers are dollars and cents.


The Modesto Kid 01.17.08 at 12:59 am

(The font variation reminds me strongly of a P.T. Bridgeport speech balloon.)


Bloix 01.17.08 at 2:10 am

A propos of approximately nothing, I have a recollection that in one of the Little House on the Prairie books, Ma makes Laura wear her corset to bed. Apparently Ma believes that lying on one’s back without “support” will cause one’s waist to spread. Laura, not surprisingly, hates it. (No, I don’t remember this from reading the books as a child – I read them out loud to my own children.) Laura was a child on the frontier in the 1880’s. So corsets on girls were apparently standard even among rural poor people.


Zora 01.17.08 at 3:18 am

That “corset” doesn’t seem to be boned. It may be corded, so that it would be flexible rather than stiff. It looks like the “emancipation bodice” I’ve seen in 19th century magazines.

Corsets are not necessarily uncomfortable. I know some large-busted women who say that a well-fitted corset (not tight-laced) is more comfortable than a brassiere, as the weight of the breasts is supported by the whole torso, not just hung from the shoulders. Some minimizer bras are effectively corsets.

Several historical re-enactors also testify to the wearability of corsets.

However, corsets are presumed to be torture devices by people who have never worn one, or even talked to anyone who has ever worn one.


Badger 01.17.08 at 3:48 am

hey modesto kid, good eye, and great long-lost Pogo strips at that site! Where are they now ?


girondistnyc 01.17.08 at 4:29 am

I know its horrible, but all I can think of is the Wendy’s restaurants of my childhood, that for some bizarre reason had their tables covered with late 19th and early 29th century ads of this type. To this day I associate penny-farthings with double cheeseburgers which are square.

[Cough] While the astute commentary above indicating that this was indeed a “progressive” development, I cannot help but be appalled by the image of…


John Holbo 01.17.08 at 5:34 am

“early 29th century ads of this type”

I would totally love to see that.


rootlesscosmo 01.17.08 at 6:01 am

Zora: if I ever write a romance novel I will call it Emancipation Bodice.


nick s 01.17.08 at 8:04 am

The facsimile 1897 Sears catalogue has that style of advertising: the more words and fonts, the better. (See also The Prestige, for the way it conveys the sheer wordiness of public space from commercial advertising during that period.)

And this does appear to be similar to the Liberty Bodice (’emancipation bodice’ in the US): no ribs being removed here.


Helen 01.17.08 at 10:40 am

A little contradiction here.

Hey, look at this wacky nineteenth-century ad! Haven’t we come a long way since images of women were depicted in this way, encouraging young girls to torture themselves into unattainable shapes!


I didn’t Photoshop that. And we don’t call em ‘saddlebags’ anymore, because that’s “French”. We call ‘em ‘freedom thighs’.


(Which, to me, looks like a combination of bad drawing and actually having, you know, thigh muscles, from riding bicycles and horses and such.)


John Holbo 01.17.08 at 11:13 am

No no no helen. It’s just that nothing rhymes with ‘fries’ except ‘thighs’. ‘Freedom waist’ isn’t funny.


John Holbo 01.17.08 at 11:15 am

Also, why do you call them disgusting? Do you hate FREEDOM!


DB 01.17.08 at 12:35 pm

the precise decimal sizing is also interesting


bernarda 01.17.08 at 1:32 pm

“The “French” style was to “tight-lace” girls beginning in childhood for the express purpose of producing narrow-waisted young women.”

What is your reference for that? I have never seen anything like that statement before.


Adam Roberts 01.17.08 at 3:06 pm

‘Freedom waist’ is funny-ish.


The Modesto Kid 01.17.08 at 4:21 pm

bernarda, this article on JSTOR might be useful — I don’t know for sure because I do not have access to it — Fashion and Fetishism: A Social History of the Corset, Tight-Lacing, Other Forms of Body-Sculpture in the West by David Kunzle


The Modesto Kid 01.17.08 at 4:24 pm

Also, on this page (which looks to be well written but I don’t see any information about the author): “It started with tightly wrapping babies and included children’s corsets, forcing the still soft skeleton into a fashionable shape.”


Rich B. 01.17.08 at 5:05 pm

hey modesto kid, good eye, and great long-lost Pogo strips at that site! Where are they now ?

Fantagraphics has just started publishing the Complete Pogo. It is also publishing the Complete Peanuts, which my daughter is collecting.


Rich B. 01.17.08 at 5:06 pm

Or, rather, will start publishing in October, 2008.


Grand Moff Texan 01.17.08 at 8:10 pm

Also, why do you call them disgusting? Do you hate FREEDOM!



John Holbo 01.18.08 at 1:50 am

It would be great to have some ‘convert your blog to a 19th Century ad’ widget. It would take the text and auto-convert it into a suitable mix of (mostly tiny) fonts and italics and caps. You could call the process ‘bridgeporting the text’.


Xboy 01.18.08 at 2:41 am

It really doesn’t look binding or even tight fitting, if the drawing is accurate. As for why women would wear corsets that weren’t binding — well, people wore a lot of clothing back then. A middle-class woman of a century ago did not leave the house without a corset, slip, petticoats, stockings, garters, blouse, skirt, high-buttoned shoes, jacket, hat, and I’m probably forgetting a few items.
And I remember those weird ads at Wendy’s, too. I was fascinated by the barber who singed off your hair instead of clipping it.


bad Jim 01.18.08 at 9:25 am

Germans call a hairdresser a friseur, which suggests hot irons at a minimum.

(shaketh head, thighs)


DB 01.18.08 at 12:14 pm

waist not: want? not


John Emerson 01.18.08 at 5:12 pm

The kid is really admirably chunky and would be regarded as fat today. And she doesn’t exactly have a fairy-princess look on her face either. So let’s not brag about progress.


Xgirl 01.19.08 at 12:40 am

My gloves! Heavens to Betsy, how can I go shopping without my gloves?


Jon H 01.19.08 at 3:18 am

That’s begging to be made into a period-style ‘Has A Posse’

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